Friday, August 17, 2007

Alicia Birchett remembered

MASHPEE — The fires have been burning for a week straight. The smudging ceremony for the burial robes is complete. On Saturday, "Little Brown Bee" will have flown home for good.

Army Staff Sgt. Alicia (Finklea) Birchett, a member of the Wampanoag tribe who grew up in Mashpee, died in Iraq last week after a non-combat related accident. Birchett, a 29-year-old mother of three, was changing a flat tire last Thursday in Baghdad when the brakes of the truck she was working on failed, resulting in her death, according to family members.

In Mashpee, more than a dozen of her family and friends have kept watch at Laverne Jackson's house. Jackson, Birchett's aunt, said that it is a tribal custom to keep a fire lit continuously from the time someone dies until they are buried.

Although the feeling of loss was palpable at Jackson's home last night, an overwhelming sense of pride and a celebration of Birchett's life shone as bright as the flames flickering in remembrance of their loved one in a small outdoor fireplace behind the house. The smell of burning sage wafted through the summer evening air, mingling with the American Indian music playing in the background, while relatives gathered around the fire recalled an adventurous woman who was dedicated to her country and family, and proud of her heritage.

The 1995 Falmouth High School graduate was remembered as "practical, dedicated and kind" by those who knew her best.

She joined the military immediately after high school at age 17 because she knew that was her path, according to her cousin Beatrice Jackson.

"Joining the Army was her way of contributing to the world and seeing the world," her cousin said.

For 12 years, Birchett was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., family members said. She was an engineer mechanic in the 887th Engineer Company, 326th Engineer Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and had served tours of duty in Germany, Korea and Iraq. Before her latest deployment to Iraq, she was living in Waynesboro, Tenn.

She received the Bronze Star, among many other awards and service recognitions, according to a Fort Campbell press release.

Her death has devastated the family, Beatrice Jackson said.

More than a dozen relatives were present last night at Laverne Jackson's house, which would've pleased Birchett, said uncle Wayne Jackson.

Growing up, Wayne said there were often more than a dozen family members living together in the house, including Birchett, which suited this close-knit family just fine. "Christmas was always crazy," he said.

That strong sense of family will be honored when Birchett is brought to the Old Indian Cemetery, where she will be buried in a traditional Wampanoag ceremony instead of receiving a military funeral.

Birchett's burial robes have been marked with soot from a fire in a smudging ceremony conducted by her Aunt June. Saturday she will be sent to join her ancestors with drums, prayers and tobacco, which are all part of Wampanoag cleansing rituals.

"No disrespect to the (military) service, but she's our tribe and that's why we're burying her with our people," Laverne Jackson said.

From the Cape Cod Times

Related Link:
Alicia A. Birchett dies 'of injuries suffered from a non-combat related accident'